NEW BOSTON, NH – The people of New Boston have consistently said “no” to a new fire station, but the federal government this month said a resounding “yes,” awarding a $9.2 million grant that will expand and replace the current out-of-date station.
The select board Monday night was expected to approve the grant from the U.S. Department of Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program, one of 17 grants totaling $100 million announced by the defense department last week. The funding was announced on the New Boston Fire Department Facebook page Friday.
The New Boston Fire Department has fought for a new station for nearly a decade, but has been shot down at every town meeting since 2016. Meanwhile, fire and safety calls increased, along with the cost of building a new station. The first proposal, in 2017, was $2.15 million. By the 2023 town warrant, the coast had increased to nearly $8 million.
Meanwhile, the 50-year-old three-bay station on Meetinghouse Road that houses the town’s fire and safety services continued to become more obsolete and costly.
The fire department and select board submitted a competitive bid to the federal program earlier this year, and learned in Augusta that the grant had been awarded. The formal announcement was made last week. Once the select board accepts the grant, the project can go forward.
The $9,285,576 was awarded because of the town’s role in housing the U.S. Department of Defense Space Force station on Chestnut Hill Road.
The grant will pay for construction of a modern fire station that will include fire, emergency and HAZMAT services for the community and for the New Boston Space Force Station. The grant program provides money for infrastructure enhancements to military installations, installation resilience and family quality of life in communities where there are military installations.
The fire station no longer meets code, is not structurally repairable and can’t be expanded, according to a website devoted to the fire station project.
In 2015, the town approved acquisition of land for a new station, paid for by town reserve funds, 380-259. It was the last time a vote for a new station passed.
In 2016, a warrant article seeking $19,500 to determine the best options for a station failed by a 2-1 margin. In 2017, a warrant article asking for $2.5 million for a new station failed, 637 against, 573 for. Every year since, the cost went up and the vote was a thumbs down.
Meanwhile, fire and safety calls continued to rise, from 418 in 2016 to 815 last year. This year, calls are up more than 25%, and expected to pass 1,000.
With increasing department needs, the condition of the station and services it could offer continued to deteriorate.
Structural deficiencies at the station include electrical system and inadequate sprinkler system, according to an insurance evaluation.
The station also doesn’t meet National Fire Protection Association standards, including those for decontamination facilities, which means firefighters bring home carcinogens and other contaminates after fighting a fire. Lack of proper turnout gear cleaning and storage means that the department pays to store those items.
The department also must pay to house per-diem personnel, another cost that fire officials maintain will be eliminated with the new station.
The size of the current station means the town must buy smaller, more expensive fire trucks that can fit through the bay doors.
The federal Space Force station houses a New Boston engine, ambulance and forestry vehicle at its site because of lack of room at the fire station. The service is provided on a contract basis, and if the contract were not to be renewed, the town would have nowhere to house those vehicles.
“The new building will meet NFPA standards and provide a safe place for Fire/EMS personnel to do their jobs as well as retain and recruit needed personnel in a very tight labor market,” the department said.
In announcing the preliminary grant approval in August, William A. LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said, “The Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program continues to be a critical program that demonstrates the importance of the relationship between installations and their surrounding communities in delivering critical infrastructure needs to support military service members, their families, and their communities.”
Awards also went to communities in Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
“Executing the mission during an emergency is only possible if our service members and civilians can get to their base,” Brendan Owens, assistant secretary of defense, said. “Since 2020, DCIP has leveraged partnerships at the local level to build a ‘one community’ approach to delivering infrastructure that enables the Department of Defense to execute its mission, supports our service members, their families, and civilians, and improves the resilience of the communities that our installations rely on.”
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a news release she was thrilled that New Boston received the grant award. “It’s crucial for our firefighters to have modern, reliable facilities so they can quickly respond to an emergency and save lives,” Shaheen said. “This project demonstrates the value of the Defense Community Infrastructure Program in enhancing the safety and well-being of the communities that support our critical defense installations.”